Smart home technology is offering homeowners some compelling capabilities to make life easier. From smart appliances that speak to smart meters and schedule themselves to take advantage of cheaper electricity rates to smart lights that adjust their colouring for different needs throughout the day, there’s almost no limit to what smart homes can do.
But, as with any technology purchase, consumers need to do their homework, says Carmi Levy, a technical analyst who works with Bell Media and CTV in London, Ont. and regularly contributes to CTV news programs and Canada AM.
“Like all next-generation technologies, there’s a fair amount of hype amid the reality and everyday consumers need to go into it with their eyes wide open,” Levy says.
To help with that homework, he offers Make Yourself @Home readers some food for thought.
Know what a smart home is
Smart devices are generally understood have three things:
-Sensors that allow them to collect data from the environment around them;
-Onboard computing capability to make sense of that information;
-Wireless networking to share that information with other smart devices and networks.
A smart home is built on a foundation of smart devices — things that were once blind, dumb and disconnected but are now very much aware, intelligent and networked.
That once-manual thermostat, that required getting up off the couch to raise and lower the temperature, can now measure multiple temperature zones in the house, collect weather data from Environment Canada via a wireless Internet connection and constantly tweak its settings for perfect balance between comfort and efficiency.
Identify the difference between wants and needs.
Consider areas in the home that may merit attention, like lighting, entertainment, or even cooking.
If the old, manual thermostat is resulting in high fuel bills and family debates over heating and cooling levels, that might be a starting point. Or, is security important and would a more tech-forward solution help you sleep better at night? Avoid the perils of buying into the marketing of a company that wants to sell expensive gear that may or may not improve quality of life.
Buy one device, live with it and get used to it, before adding to the collection of smart devices and services. Resist the urge to buy into one all-encompassing technology or platform.
Technology purchases are best made methodically. Rushing to bring it all home right now often results in stuff gathering dust at the back of drawers.
Keep it open
Tech companies love something called “lock-in,” which is where consumers are compelled to buy all technology from one company because only their smart kettle, for example, can communicate with their smart microwave oven. This is good business for the company but not necessarily good for consumers, who may pay more for the privilege because single-vendor solutions are generally more expensive than the open market. And, there’s less choice in the process.
While most smart home technology should, in theory, work with pretty much everything else, that isn’t always the case. Google and Apple, the two leaders in mobile and web platforms that smart devices will ultimately communicate with, each have their own unique approach to the technology. And not every smart device is designed to work with both.
Take the time to research compatibility before deciding which devices make the most sense. Having the coolest features on the planet means nothing if all of those features can only be controlled from an iPhone and you have an Android device.
Don’t forget your network
A smart home is only as smart as the wireless service that ties the myriad pieces together. Smart devices put a lot more pressure on existing Wi-Fi capacity.
While most homes today have a few laptops, tablets and smartphones competing for
bandwidth, smart homes are filled with many more data-hungry, always-on devices, all competing for attention on a wireless network that probably wasn’t designed with smart homes in mind.
That old router simply won’t cut it. A newer, faster router expressly designed for the
demands of smart home technology is a great place to start.
Proper placement is also crucial to ensure that every corner of the home is accessible to every device. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and install the router where it will provide the best coverage throughout the house. Consider installing range extenders and additional access points so every device in your soon-to-be-smart home works smoothly and consistently.